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Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis are the nominal stars of Kat Candler’s gritty indie drama, but the best moments belong to 14-year-old newcomer Josh Wiggins. He plays the troubled son of Paul’s character, a single dad construction worker whose efforts to build a better life routinely collapse. Wiggins plays angry, rebellious and emotionally closed-off very well. The boy throws himself into violent, meaningless physical activity to work out his resentful impulses, and he’s getting into serious scrapes with the law. He’s got talent as a motocross rider, and he dreams of graduating from the amateur circuit. His skills are wobbly, though, and the pack of little hooligans he hangs with are an anvil tied to his ambitions. Wiggins gives the boy’s struggles a raw realism, but it’s not enough to shore up this slackly paced slice of sunbaked Texas miserabilism.
⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.
“Persecuted” is a confused and confusing thriller about a TV preacher ruined by a sinister government plot. Written and directed by Daniel Lusko, who has Christian documentaries among his credits, and having ex-Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson, R-Tenn., and Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in its cast, you can guess its politics.
John Luther (James Remar), is an ex-drug addict who now leads a Christian crusade. Sinister Sen. Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) is pressuring Luther to endorse the Faith and Fairness Act, which seems to be some sort of religious tolerance / equality law that will give all religions equal standing and all religions equal access to adherents to other faiths. Luther isn’t having it. But he’s been warned. Luther is forced to go on the lam.
There’s no urgency to the performances, no ticking clock to Luther’s desperate bid to clear his name. Remar, a fine character actor, is utterly miscast as a preacher. He doesn’t have the pulpit presence. This slapdash script fails to articulate its basic complaint or identify who, exactly, is persecuting them. Government? The culture? Liberals? Humanists? Jews? U2’s Bono?
ROGER MOORE, McClatchy News Service